Alassio Wave Walking: a burgeoning tide-march born from female vision

In the mesmeric Italian region of Liguria, a new sport has made its way through the waves, thanks to the empowering initiative of two women, one working in hospitality and the other engaged as an avid surfer. Maddalena Canepa and Lorena Rasolo have imported to the enchanting Alassio a competitive physical activity that was founded in 2005 in Northern France and introduced on the Côte d'Azur in 2014 by Sophie Chipon, a Professor at the Sorbonne, who felt the urge to enhance her coastal city with a new sport that is now expanding across the globe.

Photo Credits - Emerson Fortunato

Photo Credits - Emerson Fortunato

This discipline goes by the name of “Aqua Walking” or Longe Côte Méditerranée. If you see people marching through the waves despite the freezing weather do not be surprised, this is what it is all about. As Sophie Chipon explains: “In December 2005, stormy weather conditions prevented kayaking, and due to a lack of training sessions, a professional rowing coach had the idea of offering training to rowers, by leaving the boats ashore. A new nautical discipline was born: “Aqua Walking.” Since then this activity has gained great participation, attracting thousands of fans, who enjoyed the combination of leisure and physical exercise in a very healthy environment: the Sea. This athletic thalassotherapy benefits muscular and cardio-circulatory system, and can be done all year round, no matter what the weather conditions are, as Sophie describes, “Whether it is sunny, windy, rainy or stormy, by gently walking along the shore, and peacefully enjoying the contact with the water on the muscles, by surfing on powerful waves and pushing the heart rate to the limit, aqua walking offers a wide range of benefits to everyone.”

The aquatic march combines the passion of walking with the benefits of the sea. But it is not a mere walk in the water. There are specific techniques where people use paddles or march in pairs, groups or individually. Furthermore it has become a competitive sport. Following the rapid growth of Aqua Walking, the French hiking federation, in charge of the discipline, created the French championship four years ago. The competition combines solo and team races from 100 meters to 1000 meters. The fever eventually spread to other Mediterranean shores, such as Spain, Tunisia and Italy. The latter is where female empowerment reached its peak with Maddalena and Lorena bringing Aqua Walking to their hometown, creating a school and a competitive team: Alassio Wave Walking.

Photo Credits - Luciano Falcone

Photo Credits - Luciano Falcone

These two resourceful and enterprising ladies were assigned by the FIE, Italian Hiking Federation, to take part in the formal training course with the French sister FFR, Federation Française Randonnée, in Mandelieu-la-Napoule, France. After that experience they became the official Representatives for Alassio, (that was appointed European Town of Sport in 2017), on the French coast. “Lorena and I found ourselves being the only Italians in France at the time,” says Maddalena and continues “We went to do the training course to become instructors in France, that is where we met Roberto, who immediately became our aquatic partner in crime, and two months later, we founded not only the first team in Italy, but established all the Italian regulations. After a few weeks we had sixty subscribers for Alassio Wave Walking. In the meantime Roberto left us after a severe illness, so in his honor, we organized the first international aquatic marathon event in Italy and ...we reached the world record!”

This inspirational story about friendship, that has triggered a group of people to commit to a sport with the common goal of breaking a world record, portrays in all its glory the invigorating traits of the marine world. Those who go to Alassio can experience this aquatic march without necessarily taking part in its competitions, as Lorena explains “This is all about free time in free waters for free spirits. Even just 36 minutes a day for 360 days a year can change your life! Sun, wind and sea can be considered a “pan-ic” experience — from the Greek word “pan" — meaning “all embracing.”  It is an eco-friendly activity, that allows participants to feel at the forefront of a new wave, but still being well grounded.”

Photo Credits - Emerson Fortunato

Photo Credits - Emerson Fortunato

This is a sensation that is well known by one of the official instructors of Alassio Wave Walking, journalist and Editor-in-Chief of L’Alassino newspaper, Ilaria Falcone. She fondly expresses her love for the shores she grew up in: “The sea is my home. I’ve been living in Milan for over 15 years, but I’ve always felt the urge to reconnect with my hometown’s waves. I would have never imagined it would lead me to this discipline and that I would become an instructor. I  consider myself a child of the sea, however I had never bathed during winter before, until I joined Alassio Wave Walking, and I’ve marched through the waves at a temperature of 2°C (35.6°F), with the wind blowing through the freezing water. And yet every time I cannot wait to slide into my wet suit and march through the waves, leaving all my troubles behind, enjoying the beauty of nature and the benefits of the seawater therapy, with a team of incredible people.”

Just as fond of the natural and scenic views of Alassio — that inspired English composer Edward Elgar for his concert-overture In the South (Alassio) and painter Felix Nussbaum  — is a local entrepreneur and real estate manger, who just like Ilaria Falcone has become an Aqua Walking instructor: Rinaldo Agostini. “I have always loved the sea, since I was born in the beautiful Alassio. I also work and live in Milan, however every weekend I look forward to returning to my hometown, and going to the beach on Saturday to spend time with my students and colleague instructors. To walk in rhythm, coordinating with my team members is a beautiful feeling. Whether we are marching as a group, or in pairs, using just our arms or paddles, you can experience the overwhelming power of the sea in its utmost sublimity.”

So far the competitions between the existing teams have taken place in France, Italy,  Tunisia, Spain and the next destination in May 2019, is going to be in Corsica. Each participant wears an electronic bracelet, that keeps track of time, and the types of races range from 400 for two, to a relay of 200 for three, as well as individuals marching with their paddles and a Mega Longe Race with the entire citizenship participating, in pursuit of breaking the record. 

Walking across the waves is undoubtably an ancient practice. Now it has been transformed into a sport, which allows every generationto join. This is one of the many reasons why Aqua Walkingis destined to have an amazing success all over the world, and inspire those who feel the fascination for the marine realm. So far it has stirred the creative pen of a published Tunisian poetess, Olfa Philo Drid, who practices Aqua Walking and has written the following poem:

Longe Côte
However is the weather
under the rain or the sun
despite the heat or the cold
& the casual holes in the sand,
the high or low waves,
the wind or the stream,
no need to understand!
With or without seaweeds
just these natural factors,
Struggle to withstand!

We may seem kind of fools
immersed in an unpredictable sea
which slaps, rolls and swallows
unlike in summer,
ruthless in winter though
trusting "him" thoroughly
is undoubtedly hollow…

But who ever dares to question
a gang of adventurous guys
(drugged with sports)
who are fond of competing
even though beaten?
Who run risks so high
and even believe that
one day they can fly?

Thomas Wallyn is that dude
who invented this sport
once in a creative mood;
an athlete and a poet
inspiring and shrewd
with the rite of baptism,
he might have been imbued...

This new discipline, for sure,
is gaining fame and magnitude
a sport like capricious Life
sometimes kind, other times rude
yet for skin, muscles and heart,
its benefits are a certitude...

This once  "personal craze"
has now touched the multitude
and to its founder all "longeurs"
should show their gratitude...